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No agreement yet on MnDOT lease for Wadena County transit facility

After four months of negotiation, there is still no agreement on the terms of the lease that MnDOT and Wadena County will eventually sign for the newly remodeled County Transit Facility next to the Highway Department.

The building, formerly used as a retail vehicle repair shop, has been extensively remodeled by Sentenced to Service (STS) workers to serve as a bus garage, bus maintenance facility, office, and dispatch center for the Friendly Rider Transit Service, operated by Wadena County and largely funded by MnDOT. Employees are already using the building.

County Engineer Ryan Odden, who supervises the transit operations now that they have been transferred to his department, told the county board on July 15 that negotiations continue, but that some MnDOT personnel don't understand the difference between the legal status of the county and the nonprofit organizations that MnDOT generally works with on public transit matters. This lack of understanding is holding up the completion of the language of the lease.

County Attorney Kyra Ladd agreed. She indicated that oral agreements between county staff and MnDOT are not sufficient, and that all terms of the lease need to be written into the lease.

Board Chair Bill Stearns recommended that Ladd try to talk to a MnDOT attorney, to get the attorney to explain to the transit personnel the differences between a municipality and a nonprofit corporation.

MnDOT has offered to pay $1,750 per month for five years to lease the building from the county, and to pay 85 percent of the costs of operating the Friendly Rider for the same period. The money will be awarded to the county in the form of grants. MnDOT will also pay 80 percent of the costs of needed repairs to the building, as they come up, during the term of the lease.

Odden also reported to the board about the status of negotiations with Becker County, Otter Tail County, Productive Alternatives Inc. (a nonprofit corporation), Rainbow Rider, and MnDOT, about the operation of a bus that would run from Wadena to Perham and back, to transport employees of KLN Family Brands. KLN Family Brands has offered to provide supported employment to eligible individuals from Wadena County, and to bear most of the costs of operating the proposed bus. Otter Tail County has donated $22,500, and Wadena County has been asked to donate $10,000, to help the project get started. MnDOT will allow the bus to operate as a charter service for a year, to see if there is sufficient ridership to convert it to a public service funded by MnDOT. Productive Alternatives will operate the bus service with a used bus. The service would start in September.

Commissioners asked whether there was a need for this. Social Services Director Tanya Leskey told the board that she had learned from former Social Services Director Paul Sailer that there was an identified need from both Social Services and the Workforce Center for training, supported employment, and supervision of eligible workers living in the county. No vote was taken on whether the county will use $10,000 of the Social Service Fund to help start the bus service.

Odden also told the board that MnDOT wants the Friendly Rider to expand its service to 12 hours per day, 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., effective Jan. 1. He said that MnDOT would pay for the increased costs of operation. He also said that MnDOT wants the county to complete the remodeling of an unfinished space in the Transit Building into a meeting room that could be used for training and other purposes. MnDOT will fund that, he was told. MnDOT asked Odden to include the costs of expanding the Friendly Rider hours of operation and the completion of the unfinished space in the Transit Building in his grant application to MnDOT, due in August.

In other business, the board:

• Approved the recruitment of an Office Support Specialist in the Public Health Department to replace a person who retired.

• Approved the purchase of 10 new chairs for the lobby of the Social Services building.

• Approved the publication of an RFP to supply a new emergency generator to provide power for essential services in the Courthouse building when electricity has been disrupted. The specifications for the generator were developed by Widseth Smith Nolting. The existing generator is very old and no longer operable.

• Approved the adoption of the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act Guidelines and Procedures as county policy.

• Appointed a Focus Group to assist BKV architect Bruce Schwartzman in developing plans and specifications for the Courtroom Remodeling project. The Focus Group consists of Commissioner Ron Noon, Court Administrator Rhonda Bot, County Coordinator Curt Kreklau, Chief Deputy Bill Cross, County Attorney Kyra Ladd or her designee.